Modern barn conversion

With no experience of major renovation projects, Victoria and Wayne Cresswell took a derelict barn and transformed it – with stunning results – into their dream spacious home

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When Victoria and Wayne Cresswell decided to put their detached bungalow on the market, they were not planning to take on a barn conversion project.

‘Our bungalow had three bedrooms, but they were of unequal size,’ says Victoria. ‘Our son Lewis’ room was large, while our other son Freddie’s was much smaller. As the boys grew bigger, we wanted them to have the same size bedrooms.’

The couple started searching for a larger home and put in an offer for what seemed the perfect property. Everything was going smoothly until the last minute, when the sellers pulled out of the sale.

‘We were devastated,’ says Victoria. Victoria’s father, who owns a farm, came up with a solution, suggesting they restore one of the derelict barns on his land.

‘My parents’ farm had two barns that had fallen into disrepair,’ says Victoria. ‘When we first started house-hunting, the idea of converting one of them and living there hadn’t crossed our minds – but it seemed a viable option once we considered it.’

Fact file

The owners: Victoria Cresswell, who is a flight attendant, and her husband Wayne, a mining supervisor, live here with their two sons, Lewis, seven, and Freddie, four

Now, with hindsight, Victoria and Wayne were pleased the sale hadn’t gone ahead.

‘Although it was a large property with good sized rooms, it had a small garden,’ says Victoria. ‘It was just as well that the other place fell through. We realised that living on the farm would give the boys several acres to play on and we would be there for my parents as they got older.’

With no experience of barn conversions, the couple called in an architect to draw up the initial plans to see if they could secure planning permission to turn the derelict barn into a family home.

‘We were thrilled when we were given the go ahead for planning permission,’ says Victoria. ‘However, when we looked at the plans in detail, we realised that they weren’t quite right for us. There were plenty of rooms in the new redesign, but none of any significant size, so we asked the architect to change the layout.’

The new plans included creating an upper floor in the barn, comprising a large master bedroom with an en suite, as well as two bedrooms of equal size for their sons and a family bathroom. The couple also wanted an open-plan layout on the ground floor, with the entrance hall leading to a spacious living area on the left and a kitchen-diner on the right.

‘When we submitted the new plans to the local authority, we also applied for planning permission to add an extension to the barn,’ says Victoria. ‘We wanted the house to be as spacious as possible, with plenty of natural light and a big space downstairs where the children could run around – but our plans were turned down.’

They decided to add a garage to the side of the barn instead, which has now been turned into a utility room, freeing up space in the main house. It is also used to store the large tanks for their ground source heat pumps that generate heat for the underfloor heating system and water.

The garage/utility room offers scope to develop the property further, as the couple plan to convert it one day into a family games room, with an extra bedroom above.

Victoria admits that she did have second thoughts about the project and the huge challenge that lay ahead.

‘I was pregnant at the time and wondered if I would be able to cope with it all,’ she remembers, ‘but by the time the building work went ahead, Freddie was six months old and, as he was our second child, things felt easier than with Lewis. I spent a lot of time trying to find the perfect materials and furniture. It was challenging but worth it.’

When work began, the barn was full of farming equipment and old junk, which had to be cleared out. Its external lower walls were covered in whitewash, so the bricks had to be repointed and cleaned up.

‘As the barn had been used for farm work we needed to make sure that it wasn’t contaminated,’ says Victoria. ‘We had all sorts of surveys, including engineering reports, bat surveys and contamination reports, which were handled by our architect Clive Booth.’

It didn’t all run smoothly as the couple experienced delays to their build project, which was just as well that they rented out a house during the work and stayed part of the time with Victoria’s parents.

‘We had to wait for the energy company to reposition a cable serving the electrical equipment, which took months,’ Victoria remembers. ‘When we were underpinning the barn, the end gable collapsed and took three weeks to repair as we had to allow for it to settle before rebuilding it.’

The couple wanted their new home to include an element of sustainability. With this in mind, they had a rainwater harvesting system fitted, which collects water from the roof and serves the two upstairs cloakrooms, as well as an outside tap for watering plants. A Klargester Biotec sewage treatment system was also installed. Fitting the ground source heat pumps and underfloor heating was a major job for the builders and plumbers.

‘Thankfully, we had hired excellent fitters,’ says Victoria. ‘It’s good to know that all our heating energy comes from beneath our own land.’

While the build was progressing, Victoria planned the interior schemes. She wanted a look that was contemporary yet timeless, with rustic influences so it would work well within the rural environment.

On the ground floor, an open-plan kitchen-diner with cream-painted units leads through to a stylish yet simple living area. The units and window frames were painted a shade of cream to reflect the light and ensure that the attractive interior brickwork stood out.

‘Our kitchen table is the hub of the house and the kids play and eat here,’ says Victoria. ‘We wanted a practical space, so we’ve added storage boxes in the living area, with plenty of floor space for the boys to run around and play.’

The couple had planned to lay oak flooring, but decided against the idea as they were concerned that the underfloor heating might warp it. Victoria wanted flooring that didn’t look too uniform and which would be practical for young children and easy to clean.

‘Flagstones would have been lovely, but probably too thick for us to appreciate the underfloor heating beneath,’ Victoria explains. ‘Instead, we opted for natural limestone in a mix of warm green, orange, brown and gold shades, which have their own natural stains so it’s perfect.’

‘We love the underfloor heating,’ she adds. ‘It can get very cold living on a farm surrounded by lots of open land, but when we come home the house is warm and there is no need for slippers.’

In the living area, their flatscreen TV has been positioned subtly, so that it doesn’t act as a major focal point whenever they walk into the room.

‘Our build project manager suggested putting it on the wall opposite the fireplace, which was a great suggestion,’ says Victoria, ‘and I came up with the idea to house it in a full-wall unit. I did a drawing of what I wanted and the joiner, Richard Grinling, created the perfect look based on my design.’

On the first floor, the contemporary yet classic feel is continued in three bright, spacious bedrooms, with eaves open to the top of the ceiling in each room enhancing the light. They had some rotten beams replaced with new ones, but used fewer beams to help spread the available light.

This aspect of the project didn’t go entirely smoothly, however. ‘We did rush the oak fitting in the en suite – it was a last minute decision to use oak to cover the pipes,’ Victoria admits. ‘With hindsight, we would advise anyone to fit oak only when it has completely dried out. We’ll probably have to redo them, because now that the oak has dried out it has shrunk. Oak needs to be left in a warm environment for several months before it is fitted.’

Victoria is thrilled with their barn conversion, but relieved that the build project is now over.

‘I can’t believe we went through all that upheaval,’ she admits. ‘People ask me if I’d ever do it again, and I say probably not – if you make wrong decisions, you have to live with them or start all over again.’

There are plenty of plus points though. ‘It’s great to have my family living so near – my parents’ cottage is only 50 metres away. We’ve even earmarked that second derelict barn for my brother, who hopes to convert it and move here soon. We can give him lots of advice.’

Costs

Building work and materials, including the garage£180,000
Plumbing for ground source heating£20,000
Electrics£16,000
Water pipe down track and water meter£3,000
Kitchen£11,500
Flooring£5,500
Bathrooms£2,500
Architect’s fees, legal reports and surveys£7,000
Furniture and accessories£24,000
TOTAL£269,500